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The Only Solution(9)

By:Leigh Michaels



She took a deep breath and turned toward the door. One small suitcase  for her; two large ones and a carry-on for Rory. The baby's whole life  was packed up in those three pieces of luggage.

She expected Mack to complain, but he calmly watched as the taxi driver  efficiently rearranged the trunk to get everything in. "It's a good  thing I've only got a garment bag and a briefcase," he said finally. "Or  is it a general rule that the smaller the person, the more baggage she  has?"

She didn't look directly at him. "I thought if she had her own toys, at least..."

She thought she saw a gentle smile tug at the corner of his mouth, but  he'd turned away to pick up a suitcase before she could be sure.

At the airport, the boarding area was already full, and Wendy looked  around in dismay. She should have known better than to hope for a  near-empty plane so close to Christmas, she supposed. The idea of Rory  screaming through several hours in the air wasn't inviting under any  circumstances, but if a plane full of people had to listen to her,  things would be even worse.

Don't borrow trouble, Wendy told herself. Rory was being very good at  the moment, even though she was obviously over-excited by all the noise  and confusion.

Mack had booked them into first class where things were quieter, and  once the passengers were all settled, Rory seemed to relax a little too.  But though she took her bottle as the flight attendant suggested while  they climbed to cruising altitude, the change in air pressure seemed to  bother her. She tugged at her ears and whimpered fretfully, and they  were halfway to Chicago by the time Mack got her to settle down. He did  it by reclining his seat as far as possible and balancing her on his  chest. Wendy supposed the baby was soothed by his warmth and the steady  drum of his heartbeat.

To all appearances, Mack went to sleep too, leaving Wendy with nothing  but her thoughts to occupy her. She watched the billowy clouds far below  the plane for a while, thinking about what kind of reception might be  waiting in Chicago. For Rory, there would be hugs and tears and  confusion. For Wendy, on the other hand...                       
       
           



       

She didn't expect the Burgesses to greet her warmly and try to make her  feel welcome. There was no reason they should be anything more than  polite. Mack had been right about that much, and Wendy was honest enough  to admit it. If Marissa had been her sister and Rory her niece, and  someone had deliberately kept the news of the child's existence away  from her for months, she might treat that person with frigid courtesy,  but she wouldn't be inclined to do any more. No matter how good a reason  that person had, she would be wary  –  and she expected no more of the  Burgesses.

Still, even if every minute of her stay was difficult, she didn't regret  the impulse which had made her take up Mack's challenge and agree to  come. This way she could see for herself what conditions Rory's new life  would include. At least she'd know the truth, then, and she wouldn't be  sitting in Phoenix worrying about whether the child was being  well-treated.

And if it didn't seem right? Well, she'd do something about it. She wasn't sure what, but at least she would try.

The flight attendant came by. "What a beautiful baby you have," she  said, her voice deliberately soft so she didn't disturb Mack and Rory.  "She looks so much like her daddy, too."

Wendy managed a weak smile. The flight attendant had seen a man, a woman  and a baby travelling together, and had drawn the obvious conclusion;  there wasn't any point in explaining.

A dusky gray twilight settled over the plane as they passed into a  cloud, and all visibility vanished as abruptly as if they'd been wrapped  in a blanket. The plane must be starting to descend toward Chicago,  Wendy thought. But she didn't feel any altitude change, and Rory slept  on without stirring.

The pilot announced cheerfully that since Chicago was experiencing  moderate snowfall and gusting winds, traffic at O'Hare airport was  backed up, and they'd be circling for a while before they could land.

Mack shifted his position so he could put his other hand on Rory's back  to hold her secure. "That's par for the course. I hoped we'd beat this  storm."

"I didn't even know there was one," Wendy admitted. "Is it likely to be a problem?"

He opened his eyes halfway. "Hard to say. Chicago snowstorms are  legendary. I was once on a flight from Detroit to O'Hare that flew in  circles for three hours and finally landed back in Detroit. We might be  delayed a half hour or we might end up somewhere else altogether. The  only thing I know for sure is that we won't go back to Phoenix, because  we don't have enough fuel."

He didn't need to talk to her like a child, Wendy thought. She knew  perfectly well about airline diversions and delays; all she'd meant was  that she hadn't had time to watch a weather forecast. But what would she  gain by arguing about it? "That's hard luck for whoever's meeting us."

He turned his head to look at her. She'd have sworn he was surprised.

Wendy said, "You mean nobody's meeting us?"

"I'm a big boy, Wendy. I'm capable of getting myself to and from airports."

And after all, Wendy thought ironically, why should Rory's grandparents  be eager to see her? Though, as a matter of fact, it might be better for  Rory to have their first meeting postponed to a quieter place and time.  Perhaps they'd already thought of that, and Wendy was resenting them  without cause.

They'd been circling for nearly an hour when the pilot announced, with a  great deal less good humor, that because of the snow, visibility at  O'Hare had dropped below the minimum necessary for landings, and they  would be diverting to a regional airport.

Rory woke with a jolt and started to cry as if the pilot's announcement  had physically wounded her. "Let me take her," Wendy said, and Mack  passed the child over without hesitation. "Don't airplanes have  instruments for times like this?" Wendy fumbled in the carry-on for a  bottle. "They fly in the dark, after all."

"In the dark, you can see lights," Mack pointed out reasonably. "But in  snow or fog, you can't see anything. Therefore, beyond certain limits,  it isn't safe to land." He had to raise his voice to be heard over  Rory's wails. "What is the matter with that child?"                       
       
           



       

His irritation inexplicably made Wendy feel a little better. She'd been  beginning to think he was trying out for sainthood. "Her ears probably  hurt," she said. "Didn't you feel the change in air pressure just then?"

"I guess I'm so used to it I don't pay any attention."

"Well, Rory isn't, and she doesn't understand how to make it go away. Ask the flight attendant to heat her bottle, will you?"

Rory cried till the nipple was in her mouth, and then greedily settled  to sucking. "Blessed silence," Mack said, and offered his finger to the  baby. She clutched it tightly and stared at him.

His elbow was propped on the armrest between their seats, and though he  wasn't actually touching her, Wendy could feel the warmth of his arm  across her body.

She stole a look at him from the corner of her eye. He looked tired.  That was the strain of the trip showing, she was sure. He might even be  feeling a little disillusioned, since Rory was making it plain she was  not the perfect baby on the front of the cereal box. Despite what he'd  said about being a connoisseur of babies, Wendy had half-expected him to  be the sort who took it personally if the infant didn't live up to  expectations. But he'd been the one who'd managed to quiet Rory earlier,  and there was no reason for him to be holding her tiny hand right now  if he didn't want to.

Or perhaps it wasn't the baby at all but his business that was bothering  him. He'd already looked a little tired when he came to pick them up,  Wendy remembered. She could see lines at the corners of his eyes  –  those  hadn't been there before. Part of her wanted to comfort him, to reach  up and smooth away those lines, and make him smile again.

How perfectly foolish that would be! But it was no wonder if silly  thoughts floated through her head now and then. She'd been very much  alone in the last few months, so it really shouldn't be any surprise  that spending a little time with a man, in close quarters and in serious  discussions, brought up a whole lot of conflicting feelings.

As if he felt the weight of her gaze, Mack looked up from Rory, and his eyes met Wendy's.

He was a very attractive man, too. In fact, if circumstances had been different, she might even have wondered....

Don't be an idiot, she thought. She'd never been the type to fall for a handsome face without looking well beyond it.

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